Controlling assets, operations with active RFID and Wi-Fi technology

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Do you find yourself asking any of the following questions? Hey, where'd all our wheelchairs go? Where's that portable ultrasound system I saw just last week? Who took all of our gurneys? When was the last time a nurse visited Mr. Garfunckle?

RFID (radio frequency identification) technology in combination with Wi-Fi infrastructure in hospitals can help you answer these questions and a lot more. The use of active RFID technology - basically tags with batteries - is viewed as a potential big driver at healthcare organizations to improve the future of patient care, efficiency, cost savings, and to help reduce preventable medical errors. These benefits also could translate into use by radiology departments to evaluate throughput and overall efficiency.
   
In a presentation at Medical Record Institute's Health IT Trends & Marketing conference last week, Lionel Carrasco, CTO for Neoris, an IT consulting company, detailed the correlation between grasping asset usage and big hospital operational benefits, including regulation compliance.
   
Using RFID tags, healthcare facility can measure different types of events in a hospital, such as the movement or usage of different assets as well as patient visits or people coming and going from different locations, Carrasco said.
   
The best way to start is to do test programs with the purpose of "setting theoretical capacity" for your organization which helps define the portions of an operation that are the best candidates for RFID usage, he said. Once in place, the technology helps managers to record the reality of your current processes and get cracking on improvements.
   
It's true that no hospital is completely installed in this type of technology, though some hospitals are beginning to use it or are running pilot programs. The technology is in its infancy as far as adoption, said Carrasco, though the technology itself is mature.
   
Once implementations get rolling, and hospitals build out Wi-Fi infrastructures, more and more departments will likely start utilizing RFID.
   
As for radiology departments, RFID is less attractive for asset tracking purposes because so much of the equipment used is fixed in certain locations, Carrasco said. However, the technology could be used for rather dynamic patient tracking and scheduling, beyond just evaluating throughput. Portable imaging devices are great candidates too.
   
It would be very useful to know "in the radiology department the context of who is coming for which procedure and to be able to schedule" patients accordingly, said Carrasco.

Thus, by dynamically coordinating patients based on information gathered through active RFID tags a patient who is less urgent could wait, while an urgent patient could be scheduled to sail right through and on to the OR, for example. All of that information could potentially be provided by using RFID technology and Wi-Fi.

Moreover, another benefit is the potential to prevent patient identity confusion, or to link them to their records as they move from location to location during hospitals visits. To illustrate this, Carrasco noted that the U.S. Military is looking at the possibility of equipping soldiers with RFID tags which would help connect them to their medical data as they are put through various procedures, including imaging.